Reporting from Los Angeles — As he picks up his political tempo in the six weeks remaining before the midterm elections, President Obama will increasingly focus on the economy, the No. 1 issue.
In recent appearances, Obama laid out the economic themes that Democrats were expected to repeat almost daily in forums across the country as they sought to keep control of Congress. The economic prescription follows the political message that Republicans got the nation into the current economic mess, and a return to those policies would mean economic chaos.
To be sure, Democrats will continue to use the basic political theme they already have developed: Republicans are outside the political mainstream because they refuse to engage or compromise in helping develop legislation. The new crop of candidates inspired by the "tea party" movement are even more at the edges of the political universe -- too conservative, too libertarian and too eccentric -- Democrats have argued.
But it is how Democrats confront the economy that will likely determine their political fortunes, according to most polls. Speaking Monday night at a Democratic National Committee finance dinner in Philadelphia, Obama gave a forceful formulation of his economic strategy and of GOP shortcomings.
“The other side drove the economy into the ditch, and we’ve been down there and putting on our boots, and it’s muddy, and it’s hot, and there are bugs swarming, and we’ve been pushing and shoving and sweating, trying to get this car out of the ditch,” Obama said.“And the Republicans have been standing there, sipping on a Slurpee, watching us and saying, you’re not pushing hard enough, or you’re not pushing the right way,” the president continued to partisan laughter.
“Well, come down and help,” Obama said. “’No, no, no, you go ahead,’” the president said, illustrating the Democratic complaint that the GOP is the party of no.
“Finally, we get the car up on level ground, and it is -- it’s kind of dinged up. I mean, it wasn’t good for the car to be driven into the ditch. And it needs some body work, it needs a tune-up, it needs a carwash, but it’s moving,” Obama said defending his economic policies which Democrats argue have prevented things from getting worse and have helped improve some types of job creation.
“Suddenly we get a tap on the shoulder and the Republicans say, ‘We want the keys back,' " Obama said. “You can’t have the keys back. You can’t drive. That’s why we were in the ditch. And as soon as they get into power, they will throw that car right back in reverse. There’s a reason why, when you want to go forward, you put it into ‘D,’ and when you go backward, it goes into ‘R’.”
Republicans are expected to make their economic arguments formally this week. But they have given lots of hints so far. The Obama stimulus spending has failed to create enough jobs; more tax cuts are needed, including extending the Bush-era cuts for the middle class as well as those households earning more than $250,000 a year; federal spending needs to be cut and deficits sharply decreased, the GOP has argued.
Republicans are given a slight, though statistically insignificant, edge over Democrats in how Americans see the parties dealing with the economy. According to a Gallup poll released Tuesday, 40% of those surveyed said they believed Republicans were better at dealing with the economy, compared with 38% who cited Democrats.
But among those who said jobs were the most important problem, 49% said Democrats were better, and 33% named Republicans.
The poll is based on telephone interviews with 1,019 adults from Sept. 13 to 16. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.